Denny Berg Vamps Up A 1999 Honda Shadow VLX

From average to awesome in 26 minutes

Danny Berg
Master customizer Denny Berg gives his personal bike the custom touch in this affordable custom special.Dean Groover

This article was originally published in the April 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Think of Honda's best-selling Shadow VLX, and you might think, "good looking yet uninspired," "underpowered, pedestrian, serviceable…." Okay, maybe just "slow." On the other hand, when you think of custom-bike builder Denny Berg, you probably think of elegant hand formed custom machines dripping with innovative design and clever parts. Put them together and you have…well, you have an enigma.

stock 1999 Shadow VLX
The stock 1999 Shadow VLX gets the Denny Berg chop.Dean Groover

Berg didn’t plan on creating yet another custom. He was just tinkering with his daily driver, which happens to be a VLX. But when Denny Berg tinkers, you can bet the motorcycle ain’t gonna turn out looking like any ordinary chop-shop Frankenbike. So when he called us, we knew we were in for a treat.

Much of Berg’s inspiration for this project came from fond memories of the 1970s, when choppers ruled the Sunset Strip and the grease monkeys of the day cut their teeth on the credo of “Keep it clean, keep it simple and keep it low.” That’s exactly what happened with the Honda, as Berg fused a “DIY” ethic with common sense, imagination and a few ­random items lying around his shop. The result is the feel of a classic ’70s chopper in a modern bike—for ­really cheap.

The stock shock next to the shorter homemade strut Berg fashioned to replace it. How low can you go?!Dean Groover

The Low Down

When you start with a stock 1999 Shadow VLX, you’re pretty close to terra firma (25.6 inches) already, but Berg knew the most effective route to a radical look was to drop the rear end which, in this case, involved yanking out the stock shock and changing in a spacer bar. The shock came out easily from under the rear fender and seat, with a few turns of a wrench. The replacement strut was a short piece of steel stock Berg had lying around the garage. He cut it to size, drilled mounting holes in both ends, and swapped it in. Perfect. Now he had a mean, squatty, hard-tail low-rider VLX. This step is not irreversible, however. You can still jack the bike up and bolt the shock back on in just a few minutes if your passenger’s hollering about the harshness of the ride (or maybe that’s a personal problem).

Berg continued the less-is-more theme by stripping off the bar-mounted speedometer unit along with accompanying cables to unfetter the whole front-end. More experimen­ta­tion yielded inverted Cobra risers pushing up a wide drag bar for heaps of attitude. The bar is just a piece of straight generic stock that Berg bent slightly to fit to his liking.

VLX engine
Berg’s custom VLX retains the 52-degree liquid-cooled V-twin, but rearranges some of the background mechanicals for a visual punch.Dean Groover

Stick 'Em Out

At this point, Berg broke down and actually sent out for a pair of extended fork tubes from the venerable Forking By Frank shop in Evanston, Illinois. Set at an in-your-face 44-degree rake, said tubes were six inches longer than stock (with 5.25 inches of travel) and stretched down to cradle a skinny 2.75-by-19.00 inch Cheng Shin front tire.

Initially Berg thought of modifying the front fender to fit, but decided the bike’s tough-guy looks would be better served by leaving it off completely and going naked.

Intruder horn cover
This leftover Intruder horn cover provides an unexpected visual note.Dean Groover

The VLX got a real breath of fresh air when Berg pulled out its airbox. A K&N filter, Cobra Jet kit and (in a fit of creative fury) a Suzuki Intruder horn cover replaced the stock triangular abomination, with plenty of room to spare. With a little hand-polishing and cable re-routing, the engine suddenly became something to gaze at, as it now was isolated in the frame with nothing to hide it.

1999 Honda Shadow VLX
The stock bike sits low at 25.6 inches, but Berg dropped it another 4.0 inches. Wear the steel soled boots—you’ll be scraping ’em. The aggressive rake on this fork looks plenty tough, but it makes low-speed maneuvers a bitch.Dean Groover

Custom Custom Parts

When you spy the short-chopped exhaust pipes jutting up at an exaggerated angle, you’d probably think they are a one-off custom fabrication. And you’d be half-right. They did start life as standard Cobra slash pipes, but Berg decided more attitude was required, and his predisposition for changing lines and details took over. He shortened the header pipes considerably and chopped the mufflers down an inch or two from the ends (still with a slashcut, but not at the same 45-degree angle). Juxtaposed over the lowered rear, the pipes’ angle was radical, bordering on raucous. The Cobra pipes and jet kit added a bit more meat and muscle besides making a forceful visual statement.

VLX parts
These are most of the stock parts that Berg removed from the VLX. Not that much, is it?Dean Groover

Final touches in­cluded re­rout­ing cables and brake lines (wrapping them together in some cases) to obtain the cleanest profile. And that's part of Berg's secret. He rethinks existing problems to come up with what seems like the simplest solution. He doesn't believe adding elements to designs will always enhance them; sometimes, subtracting or refining what's there is just as effective. For example, an obtrusive metal exhaust bracket was simply camouflaged out with a few dabs of flat black paint, thus isolating the stark chrome beauty of the angled pipes. Little touches such as nut covers from Cobra also combine to further clean up the gray areas that might not be noticed by Joe Average, but that drives Berg nuts.

Your Bill, Sir

Let’s break it down then…. Figure $100 for the fork legs and approximately $35 for the front tire, and you still got enough green to take the missus out for a burger. Even when you factor in the cost of the pipes, you’re still looking at well under $500. (Make that a burger and fries, then.)

The strut fits in easily under the seat assembly, and can be changed back to stock quicker than you can yelp “My butt hurts!”Dean Groover

After all was said and done, Berg reckoned he’d come up with something any Tom, Dick or Denny could whip together in a weekend, with some imagination, a few parts and even fewer bucks. To the King of Customs, this made more sense than a $50,000 showbike. The notion that a truckload of bolt-ons creates a custom fly in the face of the good old American ingenuity that Berg’s work always flaunts. And isn’t that the root of all customs?

chrome mounting bracket
The chrome mounting bracket is virtually invisible under a sneaky dab of black spray paint.Dean Groover


As evidence of the evolutionary nature of this project, Berg made a few corrections and adjustments even as he disassembled and reassembled the bike for our photographer. A cable re-route here, a turn signal adjustment there as the bike was being put back together, and the bike shone even more. For the record, the re-assembly took 26 minutes. And last time we talked to him, Berg told us he’d just discovered these awesome shower head covers that fit perfectly on the carbs and…